Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 2: Giving and Withholding Love

Disclaimer: Let’s all agree that we are doing our best with what we’ve got to work with, which means some things we are proud of and some things we are not. Let’s withhold judgment, from ourselves and each other, so that we can be honest and learn and grow together. These ideas are deep and wide and take some time to digest and integrate. Let’s all be patient, again with ourselves and each other as we strive to be our best selves.


  • Studies of discipline (starting in 50s and 60s) suggested that children receiving power-based discipline (hit/yell/threat) were worse off than children receiving love-based discipline (everything else –too broad–including controlling with love). (p.24)
  • Conditional parenting has “two faces:” love withdrawal — “the stick,” (pp.24-31) — and positive reinforcement — “the carrot,” (pp.32-42).
  • Time out originated as “time out from positive  reinforcement” during experiments with lab animals to control animal behavior; Kohn argues that current time out methods with children is effectively a “time out from your love.” Kohn raises the idea that we not focus only on the behavior, that children are not simply more complex in their behavior but also in their learning, and that a parenting model based on control is far from ideal or truly loving. (Remember: Focus is on the child’s experience of our actions/love.) (pp.25-27)
  • “The Stick:” Love withdrawal (emotional punishment) will often produce results because children want love and approval. However, the effects of conditional love may have several negative and undesirable effects, especially as the focus is on the consequences to the child rather than on the feelings or care for others. (pp. 28-30)
  • “The Carrot:” Rewards for compliance (or doing what we, the adults, want) less successful long term or beyond the “payoff.” In fact, they often decrease commitment, quality of work/learning and motivation. (pp. 31-32)
  • Intrinsic motivation (doing something for the sake of doing it or out of true desire) is destroyed by extrinsic motivation (doing something to get something else); this means children will likely stop doing things when the rewards and accolades run out. (p. 33)
  • “Praise” is a reward (positive reinforcement) that expresses conditional love and focuses on the behavior rather than the child’s whole self. (pp. 34-41)
  • High self-esteem is still not desirable if it is contingent on accomplishment; conditional love makes it hard for children to accept themselves.


  • How would you describe your “discipline” style and actions so far as a parent/caregiver? How does what you do/say match what you actually intend to do? Does it create the outcomes you actually want? (Think back to larger goals.)
  • What are your experiences seeing or using time out, rewards, praise, yelling, threats or more unconditional love? What difference do you notice in your child’s response based on your actions/words? How has your view of these methods changed (or not) after reading Kohn’s ideas?
  • When you find you are not using UP principles, do you find you tend to be more a carrot or stick person or both? What past or present influences/circumstances lead you to go to those methods? (For example: Kohn suggests “some parents who received too little unconditional love when they were children end up misdiagnosing the problem and assume it was praise they lacked.” — p.  41)
  • Do you think that saying thank you (for sharing or cleaning, etc.) or stating your observations in an excited tone (You built a tower!) fall under the category of praise and positive reinforcement? Is there a time, place or circumstance for enthusiasm and excitement? (p. 35-6)

Online Resources:

2 responses to this post.

  1. […] I’m not sure who they are supposed to model this behavior from. And I don’t believe that rewards and punishment foster it. Just as I trust my daughter’s nature, I also want to respect her nature. I respect […]


  2. […] Unconditional Parenting: Chapter 2: Giving and Withholding Love Share this:EmailPrintShare on TumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]


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